Directed by F. Gary Gray
Be Cool isn't going to set the world on fire, but it is an entertaining romp that takes equal-opportunity jabs at the movie and music businesses.
Chili Palmer (John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever) first graced the silver screen in 1995's Get Shorty, a comedy about movies, mafia, and moxy. Given that film's success, Elmore Leonard wrote a followup novel, Be Cool, four years later. Yet another six years after that, Be Cool has finally been transformed into a movie.
Palmer, as calm and cool and collected as ever, now wants to give up on the movie business. Disenchanted by the seedy characters he's had to deal with just to get a movie made, he's convinced the grass is greener on the other side. That "other side" in this case is the music business.
Not surprisingly, Palmer soon discovers the gangster rappers and Russian mafia controlling the music industry are just as corrupt, if not more so, than the hooligans that made Get Shorty so entertaining.
Be Cool is a sequel that is quite comfortable poking fun at itself and sequels in general. Get Shorty was a potty-mouthed R-rated farce. At the very start of Be Cool, Chili notes that in order to avoid an R rating, a movie can use the infamous "F" word only once. His use of the expletive in explaining the rating system is the first and last time the word gets used in this tame PG-13 sequel.
Aside from Palmer, the only other main character to return from Get Shorty is the pretentious and questionably-talented thespian Martin Weir (Danny DeVito, Big Fish). Thankfully, this time he is relegated to a tiny cameo.
Harvey Keitel, who played himself in a split-second appearance in Get Shorty, this time plays a larger role as record producer Nick Carr. He's one of the many nasty-tempered cogs in the music machine.
Also causing mischief are the likes of Raji (Vince Vaughn, Dodgeball), a white boy who thinks he's black, and his (gay) bodyguard, Elliot Wilhelm (The Rock, The Scorpion King). They're playing hard ball with Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer, Johnson Family Vacation), a family man, music mogul, and rap gangster whose minions include Dabu (André Benjamin, better known as André 3000 from the rap/pop duo OutKast), a goofy, trigger-happy hit man with some seriously poor dining habits.
The object of their not-so-pure desires is Linda Moon (Christina Milian,), a stunning hottie with a voice that can melt the coldest of hearts. Apparently unable to make it onto the American Idol circuit, she's instead slumming it at the legendary Viper Room as part of a cheesy '70s retro act, under the ham-handed management of Raji.
As with Get Shorty, one things lead to another. In the opening minutes of Be Cool, Chili's street café meeting with a burned-out record producer, Tommy Athens (James Woods, Casino) ends with Athens' murder, starting a sequence of events that finds Palmer joining forces with Moon and Athens' widow, Edie (Uma Thurman, Kill Bill).
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
There are a couple carryover "quirks" from the first flick: break-ins are still tipped off by the intruder turning on the TV (or stereo) and the nice, round sum of $300,000 factors into the proceedings. This time, the insurance loot from the first flick is replaced by $300,000 required to buy out Christina's record contract
However, Be Cool lacks the snappy repartee of Get Shorty. Instead, it's a subtle sequel whose best touches lie in the details.
While it sacrifices the witty banter, Be Cool has enough smarts to offer something else: lots and lots of sight gags. Raji's outlandish Gucci and Burberry outfits are of such bad taste, they simply can't be real (can they?).
Edie wears her heart on her sleeve or, more precisely, her chest, with slogan T-shirts announcing her status as she moves from "Mourning" to "Widow" following the murder of husband.
There are also all those Hollywood billboards promoting the biz's latest cheese. Finally playing at a theatre near you is Mr. Lovejoy, the screenplay of which played prominently in Get Shorty's action. It turned out to be the perfect vehicle for Harry Zimm to achieve legitimacy with Tom Hanks in the title role.
Where Is the Love?
Be Cool works as pure glossy entertainment. It's take on gangster rap and other music players is sure to offend some, but then again, if you're not cool enough to take the heat, then walk on.
This sequel earns some goodwill simply by reuniting the charming Travolta and the always lovely Thurman and getting them back on the dance floor together, this time backed by the hip stylings of The Black Eyed Peas and Sergio Mendes. It's also fun to see Steven Tyler muscle his way into his daughter Liv's line of work by playing a character he's intimately familiar with, himself. At one point, while rebuffing the ever in-the-loop Palmer, he candidly states he's a musician that doesn't "do" movies.
Also adding to the low-calorie recipe is the guilty pleasure of The Rock making light of himself and his trademark eyebrow. It's good to see him poke fun at himself so the rest of humanity can take a break from the endless chore.
Perhaps The Rock's talent is better suited to comedy and dance; he can now be seen under a totally different light after his embarrassing "monologue" from Bring It On, a device he uses to audition in front of an incredulous Palmer.
As for Chili Palmer, his is a welcome return; his calm and cool grace-under-pressure lifestyle is a refreshing change of pace from Hollywood's penchant for loud-mouthed, overblown lugs. Those no-necks, whether in the music or movie business, will always get a chilly reception when they try to outwit Palmer, who more or less relishes fighting the battle of wits with unarmed opponents.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.